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The Lothian Prize Essay, 1873 (Classic Reprint)

The Lothian Prize Essay, 1873 (Classic Reprint)

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Excerpt from The Lothian Prize Essay, 1873

The history of the University of Paris begins with the intellectual revival of the eleventh century. To enter into any detailed account of the foundations of Charles the Great or the school of Remigius would be to mistake entirely the nature of our task. We are not concerned with the traditions of a corporation; we are to examine the development and the history of an institution which represented every phase of thought and every department of study, whose members were bound by no merely personal devotion, but by the permanent associations gathered round the chosen home of science and philosophy. No king or teacher, however great, can make a University. Concourse of students, keen interest and competition in every kind of learning, respect for the wisdom of the past and hope of some better wisdom yet to be attained - all these are necessary to its very existence. To describe the elements out of which such a society could be formed is extremely difficult; to understand the circumstances of its growth is impossible without a somewhat lengthened review of the course of history. Such review we may not here attempt, beyond a brief and summary recapitulation of facts which seem to illustrate the position of the Fathers of Scholasticism.

The Roman culture of the great towns of Gaul was taken up almost without a break by the Christian bishops of the fourth century. When the connection with the metropolis of empire was broken, the schools of the rhetores were deserted, and the dignity of the clarissimi became almost an empty name. Cities found their best defence in the courage and dignity of the saints of the Church; and the barbarians, who might have despised the learning and the legal skill of the degenerate "Romani," were compelled to respect these gifts when they found them united with the high morality and enthusiasm of Christianity. The Church was not yet strong enough to realise the dreams of those sovereigns who thought of restoring the Empire; but Theodoric found in Sidonius a friend to whom he could entrust the training of his children; Alaric was persuaded to adopt the laws of Theodosius; and Gondebald listened with appreciation to the theological subtleties of the Bishop Avitus. But the tendency of events was against all real enlightenment.

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